Pashtana Durrani Spotlight:

Education Access in Afghanistan

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Pashtana Durrani
Founder & Executive Director of LEARN Afghanistan 

The Afghanistan conflict is a series of wars that have been fought in Afghanistan since 1978.

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It has been estimated that close to 2 million lives have been lost since the start of the conflict. In the 1990s, Pashtana Durrani’s family fled Afghanistan to escape the civil war and the Taliban control happening at the time.  Pashtana was born as a refugee in Pakistan and grew up in a refugee camp. As a child, she attended school in the camp and in 2001, a school specifically for girls opened in her community. Her mom and auntie were teachers at this school and her dad, who was a tribal leader, talked about the importance of girls' education.

When Pashtana was a little older, she traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan to meet her relatives. These relatives could not afford for the boys to go to school and it was not safe for the girls to travel to school. However, Pashtana noticed that her cousins were learning things, such as how to speak Hindi, from television.
This sparked her interest in using technology to provide education for those who don't have access. This revelation and new-found passion led Pashtana to found LEARN Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to innovation in education with a focus on women's rights. When she completes her studies (she intends to do a Ph.D. in innovation and sustainability) she wants to build community centres in rural areas and urban slums where children can learn, with a special focus on coding. She also wants to ensure there is a mentoring program for women where they can learn to code as well as other skills that will help them generate self-sustainable jobs for themselves and their communities.  

As a way to mitigate the problem of out-of-school children in Afghanistan,

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the Ministry of Education provides and supports the creation of community schools. Most of these are established by non-governmental organizations and supported by local people in those communities. Community schools are usually found in a house of a community elder or in a location very close to the community and are managed and overseen by community members. This way, both girls and boys feel safe walking to school and also offer assurance to families letting their children leave the home, as they are involved in the school and know everyone else involved as well.

LEARN uses community schools as a pathway to reach thousands of children and youth in Afghanistan to educate and empower them by providing quality educational resources, mentorship, training, and innovative technology tools and means. Starting their work in Southern Afghanistan in Kandahar, LEARN was welcomed by different communities who loved the idea of starting community schools.

LEARN established and supported community schools in Kandahar, provided training and mentorship for teachers and community elders, and arranged numerous activities with children at those schools. But soon they were faced with the issue of a lack of teachers, and a lack of quality content for children, girls and boys in those schools. 
“To overcome this issue, we were looking into an innovative way to solve this problem, to come up with something that satisfies students’ desire to access quality educational resources and not only benefit students but also help educate their teachers and facilitators as well,” says Pashtana. Pashtana identifies herself as a lifelong learner, who believes in the human capacity to learn and change their lives for the better, no matter where they live. In order to bring prosperity to a community, she says, the right to an education for everyone in that community should be respected and the necessary resources should be provided.

Last year, Pashtana learned about Phase 2 of Rumie’s App launch in Afghanistan. “We immediately knew this was what we were looking for,” she says. “The idea of having the ability to put hundreds of books, videos, audio files and games into one single app on a tablet and providing that for our students and teachers was an innovative and brilliant idea” she continues. 

Through the new partnership with Rumie, LEARN Afghanistan started using five Android-tablets loaded with the Rumie App in five different community schools in Kandahar. “In the first three months of the project, we are seeing increased attendance of children to their classes, an increase in their confidence in using digital devices for learning and educational purposes, and also an increase in their participation and engagement in the class,” says Hela Baha, LEARN Afghanistan’s Regional Director in Kandahar.

Be the change
Give the gift that keeps on giving.

The right to an education for everyone in a community should be respected and the necessary resources should be provided.

 “One of our favorite features in the Rumie Solution is the analytics” LEARN Afghanistan’s M&E officer, Mohib Faizy says. “It helps us clearly see what our students are interested in, what type of materials, either video, documents, audio or games they show the most interest in and what they show less interest in and all these help us better plan for the next round of content to be loaded on the devices”. Pashtana shares, “We can easily connect the tablet to a projector and share the same tablet with the whole class. We give students the tablets to take to their homes, to transfer the knowledge to their siblings and

parents. Not only students but also teachers are finding the tablets educational and helping them prepare better for their classes. We believe we found a shortcut, an innovative way to tackle major problems our community schools face, and that’s the Rumie Solution” says Pashtana.

Pashtana grew up knowing the importance of education and is now paying that forward. Rumie's technology is enabling this to happen faster and easier than ever before. There are 2.2 million girls out of school in Afghanistan and traditional paper-based educational models will not be able to reach them all. Together, with dedicated people like Pashtana, the Rumie Solution can.  

A Poem by Pashtana Durrani

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I will not sit to your beating drums, to your rockets attacking my school,
I will not stay silent and bear in silence your ill rules,
I will not submit to your mentality, as I have education to pursue,
I will not engage in your reasoning,
I will read the books that you intend to burn,
I will teach the kids whom you threatened,
And I will question your dark vision and I will not submit to your low values,
as I have a country to build,
and I will fight
and I will take what is mine,
I will stand up for my rights and I will not stand the inequality that you find comforting-empowering
I will not stand the belittling because you don’t have the guts to bear me and my courage
and I will not submit to your injustice because you think you are the master
and I won’t be enslaved by your threats to four walls that you feel is my place because you threatened to throw acid on my face
and I won’t keep quiet because you think women shouldn’t be talking in public.
and I won’t fight the war that you started,
I long for peace,
I wish peace,
and I await peace,
I dream peace,
my vision is peace,
my pen’s ink longs for peace
and we are done with your war of dark vision that is played with guns and bombs and human lives.
We long for peace to return.